Why God Took the Day Off
In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey recommends “sharpening the saw.” The idea is that every now and then you need to take some time off to refresh. This will make you more effective than if you keep sawing away and never take a time to recharge. It’s good advice with which I wholeheartedly agree. But it has nothing to do with God’s rest.
God did not rest to “sharpen the saw.” God rested because he was finished.
God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day (Genesis 1:31).
God rested not only because the job was done. God rested because creation was perfect. No further action was necessary. The seventh day is not a God’s day off. God would not need to pack a lunch and head back the job on Monday. The job was complete. That is why the seventh day never ends. It is the eternal state: perfection.
What About the Fall?
“But wait!” you say. What about the fall? Didn’t Adam and Eve destroy this perfection? Didn’t God have to get out his tool kit and start all over? Sure, things were perfect for a blissful moment, but Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. It’s back to the drawing board. God had to move on to Plan B. Our world is a do-over and it’s far from done. the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:12-14)
This is a description of the child to be born, the New Creation. It’s not the story of a God who loved a perfect world, but a God who redeemed a broken one. For there to be a new creation there had to be an old one. The transition from old to new is painful. We who are in the midst of this transition cry out, “How long, O Lord?” The glory to come will outshine the suffering and make it all worth it.
Because of this, both of the following statements are true:
- The world is not as it should be.
- The world is exactly as it should be.
Our world not as it should be because the prodigals have not yet returned. It is exactly as it should be because they will. This is as certain as the death and resurrection of Jesus. We live in the seventh day, the day of rest, because the end is present from the beginning.
This confidence makes it possible to avoid two extremes: apathy and fanaticism.
Rest Is the Antidote to Apathy and Fanaticism
Many look at this world and throw up their hands in despair. As the Cat in the Hat put it, “This mess is so big And so deep and so tall, We cannot pick it up. There is no way at all!” Or, as an old friend used to be fond of saying, “It’s all gonna burn.” Given a world without God, apathy is inevitable. Even if by some miracle we survive our own stupidity, eventually the sun will go supernova and blow us to bits. Why recycle? Why save the whales? Why fight human trafficking? It’s all gonna burn.
Fanaticism takes the opposite path. Our species is out of control! Our planet is dying! We have to fix this. Now! The problem is that the way to fix things is hotly debated. Democrats or Republicans? Capitalists or communists? Science or religion? We are distracted from the world we are trying to save by the ignoramuses who oppose our strategy. We forget about saving the world and turn to fighting each other instead.
Redeeming love presents a third option. Not apathy. Not fanaticism. Participation. We participate in God’s work of new creation. We trust that God is at work in the world even though we often can’t see how. Jesus showed the way.
People said a lot of things about Jesus but no one accused him of apathy. Neither was he a fanatic. Instead, he participated with a whole heart in the Father’s work of new creation. He welcomed outcasts, healed the sick, and forgave sinners.
Christ’s victory was unlike anything the world has ever seen. He conquered the world with love. In a world at war, love is a good strategy for getting yourself crushed—which is exactly what happened to Jesus. Why is this victory? Because Jesus did not come to replaced a violent human kingdom with a violent heavenly one. Jesus came to transform every kingdom by the power of love. The resurrection is a peek at what love will do in the end. The dead will be raised. Sins will be forgiven. All will be made new.
Jesus’ final words on the cross were, “It is finished,” an echo of first creation. Just as the Father rested from his work, the Son rests from his. Not because they are tired. Because there is nothing left to do. Having given his life for us, Jesus “sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).
We follow Christ’s example. We do not live lives of apathy or fanaticism. We participate in the finished work of redemption. Our lives are vessels of redeeming love. We feel the pain of a groaning world but don’t throw up our hands in despair. Neither do we rush around, trying to patch the Titanic. We lift up our heads. Our redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).
Why We Stink at Rest
Why are we a bleary-eyed, caffeine-propelled species? Why are we so lousy at rest? Because we’re lookin’ for rest in all the wrong places.
We seek rest in our finances. We max out our retirement account. We pile up enough for a decade of rainy days. This is exhausting brings no relief. One drunk driver can make it all irrelevant.
We seek rest in pleasure. We go on vacation, buy an even bigger TV, go to the movies, go out to eat, go to Disneyland, go on safari. This neurotic pleasure-seeking is not restful. It is exhausting. Pleasure is as cruel a taskmaster as the Pharaoh.
We seek rest in relationships. We go on a hunt for the perfect spouse, have perfect kids, make perfect friends. These add richness to our lives but are never enough. We quarrel with our spouse and struggle with our kids. Our friends move to a new town and we have to start all over. Relationships enrich our lives but they are exhausting.
Rest eludes us. The end of the rainbow always in front of us but never within reach. As Jenny Lind sang in The Greatest Showman,
All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky
Will never be enough
Never be enough
Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it’ll
Never be enough
Never be enough
We say with the writer of Ecclesiastes.
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
Here’s a fact: God’s rest is the only rest there is. I’ll say that again. God’s rest is the only rest there is. But what is God’s rest? How do we enter it? Let’s start with what God’s rest is not.
God’s Rest Is Not…
As a hard-driving American it is difficult not to equate rest with laziness. But rest and laziness could not be further apart.
Picture a lazy person.
Maybe it’s a road worker leaning on a shovel, staring at a ditch. He doesn’t care about the ditch. He is thinking about going home.
Or how about a teenager zoned out in front of the TV. He’s not getting much enjoyment. He’s bored.
Give either of them something they care about and they’ll be as busy as ants. Laziness is a form of escape. It’s like eating too much chocolate or drinking too much wine. It’s a way to check out. Laziness is caused by the same thing that makes people too busy.
Busyness is socially acceptable. You’ll be scorned for being lazy but praised for being a workaholic. In truth, the person sitting on a couch and a person who can’t take a break have the same problem. Neither of them can face their lives. Neither knows how to rest.
Many people divide their lives into two compartments: 1) the part that pays and, 2) the part that plays. The part that pays is their job. They tolerate the part that pays because it makes the part that plays possible. Rest is the part of your life that plays. The goal is to maximize this. You live for the weekend. You maximize vacation days. Rest is the break you get from the life you hate, the part that pays. The gold at the end of the rainbow is retirement. A life of all play and no pay.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with God’s rest.
God’s Rest Is…
Imagine yourself sitting on a white sandy beach under an umbrella with a good book and a drink, thoroughly enjoying yourself. This is an image of recharging. You’re sitting back, soaking up the abundance of the universe. That is a picture of indulgence, of rest.
It is typical to imagine that our relationship with God is give-and-take. Actually it is take-and-give. God is the source of life. He is the sun shining down on the beach. There is no shortage. It’s so abundant that you need an umbrella to keep from getting overcharged. Even your drink needs an umbrella.
But rest is more than a day at the beach. It is a way of life we experience as we follow Jesus.
- When you make brokenness a door you stop trying to put a patch on Adams fallen world.
- When you trust Jesus your mind stops spinning, trying to understand everything.
- When you hope in God you enter a kingdom you did not build.
- When you let God love you you stop working to get God on your good side because your realize God doesn’t have a bad side.
- When you love everyone the turkeys stop getting you down. You embrace the turkeys as your brothers and sisters, part of the story of redemption just like you.
- When you shine, you feel God’s pleasure in you and drop out of the endless human competition.
The Seven Habits of Wholeness are not duties to perform. They are gifts to unwrap. They are grace.
The fact that our world is messed up is undeniable. It raises two urgent questions: 1) Who is running this show? 2) Is he/she/it competent?
On the surface it looks like the answers to “Who is running the show?” is, “We are,” and the answer to who whether we are competent is, “No!” How can we possibly rest in a world in chaos? We are careening down the road with a drunk driver at the wheel. We must be ever vigilant.
Trust changes this and makes it possible to be at peace, to rest. To the question, “Who is running the show?” trusts answers, “God.” To the question of whether God is competent trust answers “Yes.” Even in the midst of chaos, “Yes.” We experience peace that passes understanding. The hymn, Like a River Glorious captures this.
Every joy or trial falleth from above
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of love
We may trust him fully, all for us to do
They who trust him wholly, find him wholly true
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blessed
Finding as he promised, perfect peace and rest
Trust fills us with peace. We relax. The weight of the world is not on our shoulders.
In the Jewish calendar, whole swaths of time we’re set aside for celebration. This was not a bunch of dreaded religious duties. These were parties.
Restful people can party. They can cut loose and dance a jig. Those who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders cannot do this.
No one works harder than Americans. We pride ourselves on this but we are mentally ill. We don’t know how to rest. When Julie and I were in Italy, we saw a different culture. People there were not so driven. They took the entire month of August off for Riposo, Italian for rest. They knocked off in the middle of the day for a long meal and a nap.
We were stunned at the sloth. In the United States it’s 8 to 5 and two weeks vacation a year. There is no time for celebration. We must push against this cultural obsession with work. As the Beastie Boys put it, we gotta fight for our right to party.
We celebrate because we believe in the triumph of God. We believe in the eternal state, the seventh day on which God rested. The day that Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished!”
Rest is indulgence, trust, and celebration. But how do we do this? Here are a few thoughts.
How to Rest
How to Indulge
When you are at rest your batteries are charging. If your batteries are not charging, you’re not at rest. It’s very simple: If an activity drains you, it is not rest. If it recharges you, it is.
1. Stop the drain. In order to indulge you must first stop the flow of energy draining from you. Get off the treadmill. Stop carrying the world on your shoulders. Remove the leeches: Facebook, television, email, etc. You know the things that drain you. Unplug!
2. Plug in to the abundance. Once you have unplugged from the drain of energy you need to plug into God’s endless source of energy. What charges you? Don’t by hyper-spiritual about this. The question is simple. What activities leaves you more energized than when you started? We each have different answers to this but there are two activities that ring true for everyone.
Sleep. One of my seminary professors said there are times when the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap. I don’t know about you but I find this difficult. I feel guilty. I feel lazy. I think the world can’t stay on its axis without me. I think God is scowling down at me as I sleep. People who take naps trust that God can run the world without them. They believe in a God of abundance who pours life into his children when they offer nothing in return.
Nature. Most people find nature energizing. Why? Because when you enter nature, you enter a world at rest. It’s not that nothing is happening. The birds, the clouds, the wind, the mountains, the rivers… all of these are very much in motion—and yet they are at perfect rest. God upholds them. God energizes them. God moves them. When we immerse ourselves in nature, we can’t help but remember that this is how it works for us too.
You will have other activities that energize you. Music, reading, fishing, barbecues… The key is to discover what energizes you. Then, celebrate the abundance. Indulge!
How to Trust
If you don’t trust God you can’t rest. You may think that you can’t do anything about this. It’s not true. You are bombarded with messages that send you in the wrong direction. The antidote is to fill your mind with truth. Meditation is a wonderful way to do this.
At the end of each week I have given you seven truths to meditate on. Go to a peaceful place with a list of these truths and internalize them. Read them over and over. Talk to God about them. Sink them deep into your subconscious so they begin to control your life. In Paul’s words, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
You know the things you most need to believe but have not yet internalized. These are the things to focus on. Soak your brain in them and undo the brainwashing of your fallen world.
How to Celebrate
Celebration is more than just a way to unwind. It is a statement of faith. It says, “I believe in a God of love who making all things new. I smell victory. I’m gonna celebrate.”
This fallen world parties to forget its futility. You party to remember God’s victory. You have read the final page. You understand the paradox that things are not yet as they should be and yet are exactly as they should be.
You know the final outcome so you plan a party. You enter God’s rest.
P.S. Should You Take a Day Off?
Jewish people kept the sabbath (Saturday). Christians rest on Sunday. Is taking a day off a good idea?
Well, first, what do you mean by “taking a day off?” Many of the things we do on our “day off” drain us. That’s not a day off. Jesus said the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. A day of is not a burden laid on you. It is a burden removed. It’s a day to recharge.
Devoting one day a week to rest is a fabulous idea with a long tradition. It is also very hard, harder than any diet. We are addicted to doing. Rest won’t come easy.
A day off will make you more, not less, productive. But that’s not why to do it. You do it because you believe in the seventh day. The day of completion. You do it because of the triumph of love. You rest for the same reason Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. Because it is finished.